The cycle of violence theory suggests that patterns of violence experienced in childhood will repeat in adulthood. For instance, victims of violence and maltreatment will continue that pattern themselves by perpetrating violence and maltreatment when they become adults. There has been a broad spectrum of research examining various nuances of the cycle of violence, yet more needs to be done to fully understand how particular abuses affect adult behavior and eventual perpetration.
To understand this better, Amy Reckdenwald, PhD, of the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida, recently concluded a study on a sample of male offender inmates. Her goal was to examine how different types of childhood abuse victimization predicted future perpetration.
Reckdenwald found that there was significant evidence to further support the cycle of violence theory. When she looked at independent types of abuse, Reckdenwald found that perpetrators of violence had high rates of childhood violent victimization. Likewise, inmates who experienced childhood sexual abuse were the most likely to be incarcerated for sexual abuse in adulthood. She also discovered that even being exposed to abuse increased the likelihood of perpetration of violent abuse.
The main findings from this study were that frequency of adult offending was impacted by childhood emotional abuse; history of physical abuse was directly related to frequency of violent and physical offenses in adulthood; and there was direct predictive value of sexual abuse victimization in childhood on sexual violence perpetration in adulthood. One point that must be underscored is the impact of psychological abuse. Identifying specific patterns and methods of emotional abuse is difficult, making it challenging to identify a direct predictive value.
However, Reckdenwald points out that the link is there and research has shown that despite its subtle appearance, the negative impact emotional abuse has on an individual could be more destructive than many other forms of abuse. Another unexpected finding was that survivors of incestual abuse did not have higher levels of sexual offending than survivors of nonincestual sexual abuse.
Reckdenwald believes that the extensive data provided from her study adds a great deal to the understanding of the cycle of violence and patterns of offending. But more needs to be done. She added, “Future research should consider a more systematic examination of what causes some individuals to carry trauma throughout their life and inflict similar harm on to others.”
Reckdenwald, Amy, Christina Mancini, and Eric Beauregard. (2013). The cycle of violence: Examining the impact of maltreatment early in life on adult offending. Violence and Victims 28.3 (2013): 466-82. ProQuest. Web.
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